Protecting the interest of the common man, the Supreme Court Wednesday told the government not to disturb the existing retail price mechanism of drugs under the price control order while finalising the list of essential medicines.
The judges observed that the prices of the drugs were so high that it left the patient with the option of either to die or buy medicines by selling one’s land or ornaments.
“The common man has no access to anything,” observed apex court bench of Justice G.S. Singhvi and Justice S.J. Mukhopadhaya, adding that “at least one state government (Rajasthan) started distributing generic medicine free of cost”.
The judges said this while chiding the government for taking long in increasing the number of important medicines under the National List of Essential Medicines (NLEM).
The court wondered why things had not unmoved for nine years and told the government to bring more essential medicines within the reach of the common man.
“It (government) gets going only when we step in. The court does not run the government. It steps in when it becomes essential and unavoidable,” Justice Singhvi observed.
An empowered group of ministers has recommended inclusion of 348 drugs in the NLEM and now its recommendation will be placed before the cabinet for approval.
As Additional Solicitor General Siddhartha Luthra sought more time so that the government could complete the procedure for notifying the NLEM, the court referred to its Feb 2 order which said that the petition by the All India Drug Action Network, a network of not-for-profit civil society organisations, was pending for the last nine years.
The court asked Luthra to read that part of Feb 2, order which said: “For the last about 10 months, this bench has adjourned the case on six different dates to enable the central government to take appropriate decision on the recommendations made by different dates.”
Acceding to the request of Luthra, the court gave the government seven days to tell it the time it would require for notifying the NLEM under the new price control order.
Before giving a week’s time to the government, Justice Singhvi asked Luthra: “Are you in a position to give an undertaking that by such and such date you will issue notification. If you give an undertaking then fine or we will issue direction.”
The court said that any further delay in the issuance of the NLEM would compel it to pass directions to that effect.
“What is the legitimacy of the directions of this court or that of any other court,” the judges said.
Even before the expanded NLEM could see the light of the day, a campaign has started in media, said the court.